The extraordinary revelation is made by Pakistan’s official investigation, obtained last night by Al Jazeera, into how bin Laden managed to live undetected in the country for almost a decade.
In its report, the Abbottabad Commission concluded that Pakistan’s military and government missed numerous opportunities to close in on the world’s most wanted man.
They may have come closest when the al-Qaeda leader was living in the Swat Valley during 2002 and 2003.
According to the testimony of Maryam, the wife of Ibrahim al-Kuwaiti, on bin Laden’s two trusted bodyguards, they would make occasional visits to the local bazaar.
She told investigators that on one trip their car was pulled over for speeding by a policeman, but that her husband “quickly settled the matter”. Whether the police officer was paid off or simply failed to spot the notorious passenger is not explained.
The investigation, set up after US Navy Seals killed bin Laden during a dramatic raid in 2011, delivers a scathing verdict on Pakistan’s efforts.
“Culpable negligence and incompetence at almost all levels of government can more or less be conclusively established,” it concludes.
It criticises the military for failing to spot either the CIA hunt for bin Laden inside Pakistan or the covert nighttime raid that saw four helicopters cross the border from Afghanistan undetected, apparently because the country’s radars focus on the threat from India.
The report also pours scorn on the failure of authorities to notice warning signs regarding bin Laden’s compound. “How the entire neighbourhood, local officials, police and security and intelligence officials all missed the size, the strange shape, the barbed wire, the lack of cars and visitors etc over a period of nearly six years beggars belief,” the report said.
Far from the whitewash many Pakistanis expected of an official investigation, it even calls on the country’s leadership to formally apologise for its failings.
“This [was] a case of nothing less than a collective and sustained dereliction of duty by the political, military and intelligence leadership of the country,” it said.